Oscar Wilde once said that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich would appear to be that cynic. He believes that he has found an easy way to dealing with high tuition costs in college — cut the college education itself. In a move that would be a disaster for the quality and standing of Ohio universities and colleges, Kasich wants schools to reduce college educations to three rather than four years to pump out more graduates in a shorter time.
I have long opposed a similar proposal in law schools to reduce the three year curriculum to two years — a proposal by deans who want to convert legal education into a factory operation.
Kasich ordered state universities to investigate ways for students to get a bachelor’s degree in three years and has called for a crackdown on what he views as lazy college professors who do not teach enough. He is getting support from Matt Mayer of the Buckeye Institute — a conservative “think tank” that (on its website) bills as its “vision” “a revitalized Ohio that ranks among the top ten states in high household wealth, low taxation, and low government costs.” Mayer states in the article below that “If we really kind of strip down higher ed and the four-year degree down to a really rigorous three-year process, for many kids that would be a great road to get their skills, get their knowledge base, graduate and then become productive members of society.” Add a second cynic to the list.
What is missing from such analysis is the process of learning and maturation that occurs in a four-year program. College is not primarily about getting a degree to get better jobs — at least not for educators. It is about producing well-educated individuals with an appreciation for a wide array of knowledge. It should be a time of intellectual awakening for students who are exposed to great ideas and great writers. This exploration can lead students into new fields or simply open up a lifetime interest in learning. “Stripping down” education suggests that some knowledge or course are merely frivolous distractions as opposed to the core classes needed to be functional in society. You can strip down a lawnmower and it will still produce a sharp cut. When you strip down education, you just get a dull graduate.
The desire to rank the “quality” of schools based largely on tuition produces absurd results, as shown in the discredited Forbes rankings.
As for those lazy academics, this seems part of the growing trend of demonizing intellectuals in contemporary politics, particularly among some conservative leaders like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Colleges benefit from professors continuing research and writing to keep new ideas and works flowing through their classrooms. They are not shop teachers who just teach a single unchanging skill. The quality of teaching depends on teachers remaining intellectually productive.
If Kasich succeeds, the standing of many fine Ohio schools will decline dramatically. The academic standing of schools will plummet in academic rankings and the quality of students will decline in response. The result is a downward spiral where Kasich will be able to show “success” in cranking out more degrees but his state will become a second-rate educational center. As the standing of Ohio schools fails, top professors are likely to go elsewhere as are businesses who want the best and the brightest graduates.
Kasich needs to have someone explain the difference between the price of education and the value of education.